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'Emperors of the New Economy' Grilled at Antitrust Hearing

Newser — Rob Quinn

The CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google were sworn in remotely Wednesday for a historic antitrust hearing before House lawmakers. Rep. David Cicilline, chairman of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, used his opening statement to accuse the tech giants of damaging the economy through excessive dominance, the New York Times reports.

"Any single action by one of these companies can affect hundreds of millions of us in profound and lasting ways,” the Democrat said. "Simply put: They have too much power." He called the CEOs the "emperors of the new economy." Some highlights:

  • Google "abused its power." Cicilline's first target was Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the Washington Post reports. He accused Google of using stolen information to crush rivals. "The evidence seems very clear to me: As Google became the gateway to the Internet, it began to abuse its power," Cicilline said. "It used its surveillance over Web traffic to begin to identify competitive threats and crush them.

It has dampened innovation and new business growth, and it has dramatically increased the price of accessing users on the Internet, virtually ensuring that any business that wants to be found on the Web must pay Google a tax."

  • Facebook's Instagram acquisition "illegal." Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler grilled Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook's acquisition of Instagram in 2012, saying internal emails about acquiring rivals told a "very disturbing story," TechCrunch reports. He said the buy was exactly the kind of action antitrust laws are supposed to prevent, and asked: "If this was an illegal merger at the time of the transaction, why shouldn't Instagram now be broken off into a separate company?"
  • "Inconclusive" answers from Bezos. Politico reports that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who was making his first-ever appearance before Congress, did not face a question for the first two hours—and delivered an "inconclusive" answer when asked whether the company had used data from third-party sellers to launch its own products. He said Amazon has a policy against it, but he couldn't guarantee it has not been violated.
  • Zuckerberg was "joking" about buying Google. Zuckerberg told Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse that an email in which he mentioned buying Google "sounds like a joke." Neguse countered that Facebook's market share is "no joke," the Guardian reports. "Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram, are the most now downloaded apps of the last decade, and your company, sir owns them all," he said. "We have a word for that, and that word is 'monopoly.'"
  • "Big tech is out to get conservatives." Republican lawmakers at the hearing largely focused on allegations of anti-conservative bias at the tech giants, the Hill reports. "I'll just cut to the chase, Big Tech is out to get conservatives," Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said in his opening remarks. "That's not a hunch, that's not a suspicion, that's a fact."
  • Bezos defends diaper sales. Democratic Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon called out Bezos for driving up the price of diapers online by acquiring Diapers.com in 2010 and shutting it down. The Amazon CEO responded that there are still many other places to buy diapers, NBC News reports.
  • Cook grilled on app development. Apple CEO Tim Cook argued that the company's App Store rules are "applied equally to every developer," but lawmakers used some of the more than 1.3 million documents obtained in their antitrust investigation against him, the Times reports. After Cook told Democratic rep. Hank Johnson said he didn't know if the Chinese search firm Baidu received special treatment, the committee produced emails from 2014 in which Cook told Baidu's chief executive he was on the "app review fast track."
  • Tech hiccups. The Post notes that even the CEOs of the world's biggest tech companies had some issues with teleconferencing, which was conducted via Cisco's Webex rather than products by the companies at hand. While the audio quality was clear, all four CEOs, especially Zuckerberg, experienced audio delays that caused their words to be out of synch with their lips.

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This article originally appeared on Newser: 'Emperors of the New Economy' Grilled at Antitrust Hearing